CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In West Virginia, coal mining is an ”essential” business during the coronavirus crisis and will not be shut down, Republican Gov. Jim Justice said Friday.
"From the standpoint of our metallurgical coal and how dependent on it our steel industry is, if there is anything in the world that is absolutely essential, it's going to be coal," said Justice. "This is one that I don't have to think about."
Justice has closed public schools, encouraged people to stay at home, and shut down restaurant dining rooms, bars, barber shops and nail and hair salons.
But he will not be adding coal mining to the list. The bulk of the West Virginia’s energy comes from coal-fired electricity plants.
"Coal, absolutely, has an essential classification to West Virginia," said Justice. "I'm going to tell you, without any question, without coal-fired generation today, our country would be in big trouble.”
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, issued an order Thursday requiring "non life-sustaining" businesses, including coal mining, to halt operations in that state. Mines closed down to help contain the spread of COVID-19.
Justice said Wolf's decision was likely "political," possibly pandering to more liberal mayors and city officials in Pennsylvania.
"In the state of Pennsylvania, you've got maybe a viewpoint that coal is surely less significant," said Justice. "Plus, the fact you've got a very liberal governor, so it becomes more of a political football.”
Justice said the political climate in West Virginia is different and his decision to exclude coal mining from businesses required to shut down will not be controversial.
“It's just as simple as this,” he said. “Coal is essential."
West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Illinois and Kentucky are the major coal states, accounting for more than 70 percent of coal production in the U.S.